Will Georgia educators turn their backs on Casey Cagle?

Has Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle undermined his support from educators with his push for two education bills based on political expediency?

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

Has Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle undermined his support from educators with his push for two education bills based on political expediency?

The Cagle campaign for governor is in the midst of damage control after Clay Tippins, the fourth-place finisher in the May GOP gubernatorial primary, released a recording of Casey Cagle explaining he promoted a bad education bill to undermine another candidate.

A tactic has been to decry the surreptitious recording made by Clay Tippins as more offensive than anything the lieutenant governor said in the private conversation.

For example, Cagle supporter and former Georgia congressman Lynn Westmoreland said, “I’ve had plenty of private, closed-door political discussions, and the fact that Casey Cagle had one doesn’t change my support for him to be governor. What I have changed my mind on is the character of the fourth-place finisher.”

I am not sure that strategy will work, especially after a second AJC story this week about Cagle pushing through yet another education bill that snubs the traditional public schools attended by nine out of 10 Georgia children.

Another Tippins is involved with this latest political drama, Republican Sen. Lindsey Tippins of Cobb, who felt so betrayed by his longtime political ally Cagle that he resigned his chairmanship of the Senate education committee. Lindsey Tippins was supporting Cagle in the race for governor over his nephew Clay Tippins, a businessman and former Navy SEAL.

The AJC's initial bombshell on Cagle's statement to Clay Tippins that he supported "bad public policy" to prevent rival Hunter Hill from receiving a big PAC donation and the second AJC story this week on his pressuring Lindsey Tippins to raise charter school funding for the same reason have riled educators.

Among the comments on my AJC Get Schooled Facebook page:

--His name is now Mud

--So, let's see, it has nothing to do with what students need but, has everything to do with what Casey Cagle needs in his campaign funding account! Got it! You know what? I would wager a bet that most people who vote for him either won't know this or care to research this but will absentmindedly vote for him because he is already the lieutenant governor. Educate yourself before you vote!

--I am to the point where there are so few honest people left in government. It seems to be all about money and power.

The bill that Cagle supported to wobble Hunter Hill raised the cap on tax credits for private school scholarships, which Cagle describes on the recording as bad in “a thousand different ways.” With a tax credit, taxpayers pledge money to a school, up to $1,000 per person, $2,500 per married couple or $10,000 per shareholder or owner of a business (corporations can contribute up to three quarters of their state tax debt) and get their tax bill reduced by that amount.

On Clay Tippins' recording, Cagle said, "It ain't about public policy. It's about (expletive) politics. There's a group that was getting ready to put $3 million behind Hunter Hill."

As my AJC colleague Ty Tagami reported, the final action on this bill took place quietly and quickly:

HB 217, by Rep. John Carson, R-Marietta, had passed both chambers of the legislature during last year's legislative session, but the chambers disagreed on the final day of that year's session over how much to raise the cap from the current $58 million. The House of Representatives wanted $100 million and the Senate wanted $65 million.

Nothing happened in public on the bill this year until the last day of the session when a conference committee comprising members of the House and Senate unveiled their compromise bill. It quickly passed both chambers, setting the cap at $100 million for the next decade. After that, it drops back to $58 million.

Another bill also passed on that last day, one that broke the close bond between Cagle and Senate Education and Youth Committee chair Lindsey Tippins. Lindsey Tippins resigned from the chairmanship over what he describes as Cagle’s breach.

Cagle is in a runoff with Secretary of State Brian Kemp for the GOP nomination. The winner of the July 24th vote will face Democrat Stacey Abrams in November.

Lindsey Tippins said Cagle insisted on House Bill 787, which increased the per-pupil student allotment for state-sanctioned charter schools by about $17 million a year, to stymie Hill. Cagle did not want to cede the mantle of school choice candidate in the Republican race -- or any big outside donations that might come with the title -- to opponent Hunter Hill.

Lindsey Tippins opposed HB 787 in part because it gives some charter schools a higher rate of funding per student than dozens of public school systems.

In his interview with the AJC's Greg Bluestein, Lindsey Tippins described his painful exchange with Cagle:

He said, 'I've got to do something for charter schools," said Tippins, describing a conversation with Cagle in the legislative session's closing days. "He said, 'The Walton Family Foundation is fixing to put $2 million in Hunter Hill's campaign. And he said, 'If this bill passes, I'll get it in mine.'"

Tippins added: "It was at that point I told him I'd rather be shot doing what was right than be lauded for doing what I believed to be wrong. I said, 'If you've got to have this bill, you're going to do it without me.'"

In a statement Tuesday, Cagle campaign manager Scott Binkley did not deny Cagle made those remarks. But he said Tippins "stonewalled" efforts to expand education options and that Cagle "tired of getting blamed for the lack of progress" on boosting charter school funding.

Cagle is in a runoff with Secretary of State Brian Kemp for the GOP nomination. The winner of the July 24th runoff will face Democrat Stacey Abrams in November.

I am not sure all voters will be dismayed with Cagle’s revelations to Lindsey or Clay Tippins, but I think educators in Georgia will.